By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
"I'm glad the situation came to an end," says Carpenter. "But my child could have gotten killed. Why did they wait for a second time to arrest Cathy White? Why did they leave my daughter in that situation for seven days? Why aren't they being charged with child endangerment?
"Do you know what the authorities would have done to me if I brought my daughter on a drug buy?" Carpenter says, his voice rising with anger. "They would have thrown the book at me."
The night of Cathy White's arrest, Ron Carpenter left the Garland police station dejected. He had expected to take Autumn with him. But he figured the whole mess would be cleared up soon and Autumn would be home in a matter of days.
Carpenter went home and changed his locks to prevent White from returning. He alerted the apartment manager that White was no longer allowed on his premises. That night, White called Carpenter and asked him to deliver her epilepsy medicine to her in jail. He refused, fearing that she had stashed illegal drugs in the medicine cabinet and he would be implicated--further jeopardizing his custody situation. He says White threatened to get even with him.
The next morning, April Smith, a caseworker from CPS, and Garland police Detective Lana Burke paid Ron Carpenter a visit. Burke told Carpenter he was under investigation for "neglectful supervision of a child."
"It was like being under the hot lights and beaten with a rubber hose," Carpenter says. "I was shaking like a leaf. I didn't have a lawyer present and they started asking me all these questions. When I told them how I fell in love with my late wife--over the phone--they said, 'See, you have a history of letting people you don't know into your house.'"
Caseworker Smith asked him how much he drank. "I told them I have overindulged on occasion. I overeat on holidays and sometimes I drink to excess. They implied that I drank to the point I couldn't hear if my daughter cried in the night."
Carpenter felt trapped. CPS and the police were blaming him for hiring the likes of Cathy White, then they turned around and used her as a witness against him.
Cathy White confirmed in an interview that she had told the police she thought Carpenter was an alcoholic, imbibing, she says, a quart of vodka every few days. She also told them he locked his daughter in her room. (Cathy White also told police she lives in "several worlds at the same time," according to police affidavits.)
Carpenter denies ever locking his daughter in her room and says White exaggerated how much he drank, but admits he probably drank more than he should have on occasion. "I did it to fill in the empty spaces in my life," he says. "But I'm not an alcoholic. I don't need a bottle to survive. It never interfered with my work or in being a parent."
Carpenter told Smith and Burke he wanted his daughter home as soon as possible. He reiterated how he hired Cathy White in a moment of desperation, and then only after first checking with her parole officer. He tried to no avail to show them his wife's death certificate, and the legal documents surrounding the case with his son.
A few days later, Carpenter packed up some of Autumn's clothing and possessions, including her favorite doll, which he had given her in October for her third birthday, and pictures of himself and her mother. Paul Shaffer brought them to a CPS-run safe house in Garland. CPS didn't deliver them to Autumn for four weeks.
A court date was set for November 20, in the courtroom of State District Judge Sheryl Lee Shannon.
Barely making ends meet as it was, Ron Carpenter could not find an attorney who would represent him for less than $1,500. So he decided to represent himself. Before his scheduled hearing, he met with Assistant District Attorney Mike Smith and Briana Curry, the CPS caseworker assigned to the case. They wanted Carpenter to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. He agreed to do so, only if, after submitting to a psychological and chemical-dependency screening, the test results indicated he needed treatment.
Carpenter also told the district attorney and caseworker he did not want to see his daughter spend any more time than necessary in the foster-care system. Desperate again, Carpenter told them that if his situation did not come to a rapid conclusion, he would be willing to have his daughter adopted by Paul Shaffer's daughter and son-in-law in South Carolina.
The judge approved the agreement the parties had reached and scheduled the next hearing for mid-January.
For the entire month of November, Carpenter was barred from seeing his daughter. Apparently the caseworker had misunderstood Carpenter when he talked of possibly having his daughter adopted. He meant it only as an alternative to Autumn spending an inordinate amount of time in the limbo of foster care. The caseworker thought he was abdicating his rights to the state. Even so, Carpenter wonders why they wouldn't let him see her.